Pakistan has apparently persuaded Turkey to keep open educational institutions allegedly linked to a U.S.-based cleric whom Ankara blames for last month’s botched coup attempt.
The PakTurk network of schools and colleges currently caters to 10,000 students across Pakistan. While PakTuk denies any affiliation to Gulen, Ankara sees it as a Pakistani chapter of Fethullah Gulen’s global network of Islamic cultural and educational institutions.
“Some of the schools are quite professionally managed, and they provide good education,” Sartaj Aziz, the Pakistani prime minister’s foreign policy adviser, told journalists on August 2.
Aziz added that Islamabad is looking into finding a new way to manage the PakTurk schools.
“Their other activities have to be managed or curbed in whatever way our Turkish brothers would like us to,” he said while standing alongside Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, who was apparently touring Islamabad to win its backing for shutting the schools.
“In the past we supported them, but we didn't know that they had a hidden agenda. We didn't know they were trying to take over power in Turkey through such [coup] attempts,” Cavusoglu said. “Therefore, the fight against this terrorist group must be [waged] all over the world, and we have full cooperation from Pakistan."
According to Turkey’s Daily Sabah, Islamabad and Ankara have agreed to hand over the administrative control of these schools to Turkey’s Maarif Foundation.
The PakTurk organization, however, denies being part of Gulen's network.
"We are deeply concerned by allegations ... trying to connect the PakTurk International Schools and Colleges in Pakistan with Mr. Fethullah Gulen," it said in a statement on its website. “We have no affiliation or connection with any political individual or any movement or organization.”
With more than two dozen campuses, PakTurk has been operating in Pakistan for 21 years.
Ankara blames Gulen’s followers for orchestrating last month's abortive military coup. It failed after civilians responded to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s call to resist the putsch and the plotters failed to muster enough backing from within the security services and government to capture power.
Gulen, however, has denied involvement in the coup.
"If one-tenth of this accusation is correct ... I would bend my neck and would say, 'They are telling the truth. Let them take me away. Let them hang me,'" he told CNN last week.
Gulen, 77, has been living in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania since 1999. His Hizmet movement is believed to run 2,000 educational and cultural establishments in more than 150 countries.
A warm personal friendship between Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Erdogan has further strengthened the traditionally close ties between their countries.
With Reporting by Reuters